The King opened the new session of the UK Parliament today with a range of new UK Government bills announced in three broad areas: Growing the Economy, Strengthening Society, and Keeping People Safe. The full text of the King's speech, and details about each of the bills announced, as well as some commentary by the Prime Minister, is in this document.
There are three Bills of relevance to the tourism industry at large:
Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill - This is a carry-over Bill from the previous session. The UK Government conducted a quick consultation on drip pricing and fake reviews; that was in order to feed into this bill. Drip pricing is the practice of additional costs being added during a consumer's booking journey. In many cases this is for genuine additional products and services which give consumer more choice and businesses more opportunity for selling. However, the Government is keen to tackle the practice in particular for mandatory service fees etc. The document says that any action on drip pricing is subject to consultation - which could simply be subject to the outcome of the consultation which recently closed, or further consultation. The same consultation also looked at tackling fake reviews which would be of benefit to many businesses who suffer from this unfair practice which the Government is also planning to tackle in this Bill.
Draft Rail Reform Bill - This will look to "Simplifying fares and ticketing, providing more convenient ways to pay with the rollout of Pay As You Go and new ways of buying tickets such as single leg pricing which will make the railways easier to use (for example by removing the anomaly of some single tickets being almost as expensive as a return ticket)."
Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill or "Martyn's Law". This has been discussed and debated previously and could have significant implications for many in our sector.The Bill will require certain venues to fulfil necessary but proportionate steps according to their capacity to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack and reduce harm. The duties that premises will have will depend on the size of the venue. Premises and events with a capacity of 800 or above will be in the enhanced tier, while premises with a capacity of 100 to 799 will be in the standard tier. Some details on the requirements for both the enhanced and standard tier are in the Government document but the Standard tier requirements will also be subject to consultation, in order to "strike the right balance between public protection and avoiding undue burdens on smaller premises..."
VisitBritain’s newly launched website is now live. VB’s research and insights resources available via https://www.visitbritain.org/research-insights
It has a large range of data sets, reports, and analysis available .
FROM 30 OCTOBER 2023 THERE WILL BE A BAN ON ANYONE SELLING OR SUPPLYING SOME SINGLE-USE PLASTIC PRODUCTS IN WALES.
What is being banned?
For more information visit The Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Wales) Act | GOV.WALES
There are communication assets available here to support the campaign: Welsh Government Communications Services Digital Toolkit
Firstly, the good news (if there is any), is that the earliest a visitor levy will be in place is 2027.
A Contribution for a Sustainable Future” which provides details of how the visitor levy will work has been published (links below).
A draft Bill will be introduced into the Senedd by the end of 2024. The Senedd will scrutinise the draft Bill and may propose amending it as part of its review, before deciding whether or not to endorse it by means of a vote. This will take due time, and it is estimated that this decision will be made in 2025.
If the Senedd approves the legislation, it will then be for each local authority to decide if it wishes to start the process to introduce a levy in their area. A local authority would need to consult with its communities, and undertake its own impact assessments, to inform its decision about implementing a levy.
Once a local authority makes a decision to introduce a levy, there will be a notice period to ensure businesses and visitors are prepared. Through the above process, the Welsh Government estimates that the earliest a visitor levy will be in place in any part of Wales is 2027.
The Welsh Government states, ‘The visitor levy will put power into the hands of local communities and give them a tool to encourage sustainable, regenerative tourism’. This will be the crux of the intervening debate.
The link to the recently updated Policy & Strategy Document- A visitor levy for Wales | GOV.WALES (first published on 20 September 2022 and updated on 17 October 2023).
Also the Link - A Visitor Levy for Wales: A contribution for a sustainable future (gov.wales) to the Promotional material published on 17 October 2023 entitled “A Visitor Levy for Wales
The headline of this quarter’s Visitor Tourism Business Barometer is “Quiet Year Continues”. I’m tempted to refer to Conan Doyle’s famous detective’s constipation at this point. All sectors except attractions, which benefited from the rainy weather, reported a greater drop than rise in customer numbers.
Those businesses which have seen better figures than last year cite improvements to their offer/marketing and the loyalty of repeat customers. Never has quality and messaging been so important in managing demand. Messaging is tricky at the moment with media either revelling in negative stories (tax, 20mph) or raising the same handful of Welsh destinations to the top of everyone’s bucket list. Investing in quality is even more difficult with profit squeezed by the need to discount prices at a time of inflated costs to attract customers who are not staying as long and often spending less.
Three quarters of the businesses surveyed for Welsh Government were different types of accommodation provider. Not one of them will hit 50% occupancy for October - December which does not bode well for self-catering’s ability to hit 182 days.
It is important that Welsh Government does not see these figures as a one-off: They point to problems with tourism’s uncertain climate and cannot simply be explained away as due to a bout of bad weather.
The visitor economy faces systematic, longer-term challenges which limit agility to respond to customer behaviour or the ability to invest in improving the offer and marketing. Tourism is a major component of both local and national economies and needs a period of stability to think and plan for a sustainable future. It is populated with entrepreneurs and innovators who are part of their communities and whilst ready to move ahead, are increasingly frustrated by limiting decisions made outside their control.
Whatever the government’s policy aims, it’s in their interests to design the means of delivery in a way that minimises unintended harms. Listening to grassroots tourism providers, taking industry’s advice is a sign of confident government, especially when your own stats show you need to.
Over 1500 have responded to the PASC UK led, WTA, UKH survey. The headlines from the ‘Phase 1’ Wales Survey:
Phase two: The petition https://pascuk.eaction.online/182Wales is still open, over 2500 letters have been sent to your Representatives through the Petition.
This petition can be filled in by any registered voter in Wales. Many have already received supportive responses along the lines of ‘I supported these measures at the beginning, but can see that a review is timely…' etc. We need businesses to tell them about the relentlessness of it all, the constant counting of the days sold, the discounting to get extra days, taking ever shorter breaks, not daring to close for a break yourselves in case you miss one night sold, unable to close to refurbish for the same reason, the stress and mental anguish.
We have made this really easy to complete, it is embedded under a package called iParl. You click on the link tbelow and you are taken to a microsite, where all you do is enter your Postcode, your address, your name and hit send…. Bingo. We can track how many are sent and are looking for a least 30 per MS. It takes just over a minute, so please click here, and help us help you: https://pascuk.eaction.online/182Wales
The 2021 Economic Mission set out a pathway to recovery post-pandemic, to reconstruct the Welsh economy with the aim to improve the well-being of everyone in Wales. The economy has been subject to significant challenges in the 2 years since the Missions’ publication. The current Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething MS aims to renew the Economic Mission for Wales to provide clarity about Welsh Government economic priorities and engage with businesses and Welsh society about the economic future we are striving for in Wales. Work is now underway to identify key areas or priorities for the economy, to make best use of the tools and levers available to work towards making Wales a better place to live, work and do business.
The WTA Has responded on behalf of its member organisations. In brief, as the visitor economy is dependent on discretionary spend, it is particularly exposed to external economic pressures. Some of these are currently captured in the tail of covid and the “cost of living crisis” and the effect on supply and demand is particularly acute in this industry. This was confirmed again in the most recent Business Barometer and underlines why a Mission to minimise uncertainty would be most welcome.
We have placed a full response to this consultation and it will be available shortly on the Wales Tourism Alliance website – www.wta.org.uk
Questions are regularly being asked of the Welsh Labour Government on our industries behalf. These can either come prompted direct from constituents (i.e., you); WTA and its member organisations direct, or via the Tourism and Hospitality Cross Party Group chaired by Sam Rowland MS.
The Self Catering industry is reeling from the new 182 threshold, so keeping this issue at the top of the agenda continues to be of great importance as it looks like to reaching 2022/23 is going to be difficult if not impossible for many self caterers. The problem is not so much that a self catering business may have to pay Council Tax if we miss 182, it is that the property is deemed a second home and then has to pay up to a 300% premium. This is why we need a balanced mix of exemptions. The support from opposition MSs is appreciated and much needed. The following are two recent examples of tabled questions:
Jane Dodds MS - Tabled Question: What consideration has the Minister given to aligning Welsh regulations with respect to furnished holiday let businesses to HMRC’s 105 occupancy days, as opposed to 182 occupancy days?
Answered by Minister Rebecca Evans MS, Finance and Local Government - 20/09/2023
The Welsh Government considered a range of options for the letting criteria used to classify self-catering properties for local tax purposes, including at least 105 days actually let. The 182 days letting criteria reflect the settled policy position reached following consideration of a range of relevant factors, including that for a self-catering property to be treated as non-domestic for local taxation purposes it should operate as a business for the majority of the year.
The Welsh Government’s Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) was published alongside the legislation. The RIA includes the available evidence in relation to historic occupancy but it is not possible to predict how may properties will meet the criteria in future. The Welsh Government continues to monitor the effect of the legislation but has no plans to undertake a formal review of the changes to the self-catering criteria in the short-term nor in isolation from the broader package of measures within our three-pronged approach to tackling the impact of large numbers of second homes and holiday lets can have on communities and the Welsh language. Such a commitment could create uncertainty for the self-catering sector, which is unlikely to be helpful in diverting its focus from responding to the criteria in place now and for the foreseeable future.
The Welsh Government does not intend to consider exemptions from the letting criteria, which apply equally to all self-catering properties across Wales. The letting thresholds apply nationally and consistently because they define a key aspect of the system: whether a property is treated as a domestic dwelling or a non-domestic holiday let for local tax purposes. There are no exemptions to this definition and this is not a new principle.
The Welsh Government has recognised that some self-catering properties are restricted by planning conditions preventing permanent occupation as someone’s main residence. We have extended the existing exceptions to council tax premiums to include properties with a planning condition which specifies that the property may only be used for holiday let or which prevents their permanent occupation as a person’s sole or main residence. Such properties would become liable for council tax at the standard rate if they do not meet the letting criteria, but they could not be charged a premium. We have issued updated guidance to local authorities regarding the implementation of council tax premiums on second homes and long-term empty dwellings. Local authorities also have discretionary powers to reduce council tax bills for particular dwellings or classes of dwellings.
This work is being carried out in collaboration with Siân Gwenllian MS, the Plaid Cymru designated lead member, as part of the Cooperation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru.
Marks Isherwood, MS – Question at Plenary – 27/09/2023 'Thank you. As a constituent e-mailed a fortnight ago regarding the 182-day threshold for holiday lets, 'Same old is being trotted out by the Welsh Government. None of their statements is being borne out by facts. Everyone has been dreamed up to prop up the rhetoric.'
Regarding the socioeconomic impact, a survey commissioned by the Wales Tourism Alliance, UKHospitality and the Professional Association of Self-Caterers UK already shows that fewer than 25 per cent of Welsh self-caterers will hit the threshold in this year of soft demand, higher mortgages and a cost-of-living crisis, even though over 70 per cent have said that they are discounting to try and achieve it. How, therefore, do you respond to the legitimate holiday small business owner in Denbighshire, who e-mailed: 'We've taken the decision to cut our losses, salvage what's left of our mental health and close down', and to the legitimate self-catering small business owner in Flintshire, whose property is now on the market, who e-mailed: 'A number of major lenders have said that they would not provide mortgage support, which would seriously affect people's ability to sell their property'? These are two examples, sadly, among many that I am receiving.
Mark Drakeford MS, First Minister’s response
The Welsh Government's policy is there for a reason. It is there to distinguish properly between holiday lets that are organised on a commercial basis and those that fall below a commercial threshold. The number of days that a property has to be available for letting, and the number of days that it has to be let, are there to make that distinction. If you are a business, then it is reasonable that you let your property for the number of days that we now require in Wales. If you don't do so, that doesn't mean that you can't go on letting your property, it simply means that you don't benefit from the business rate reliefs that would otherwise be available to you; you simply pay the council tax like everybody else and you let your property for fewer days. There's nothing unfair about that. What it actually is fair to every other taxpayer.
1st October Deadline Passed: You must now have a recorded (written) Fire Risk Assessment for your property
Home Office Guidance on Making your small paying guest accommodation safe from fire 2023
This paper covers small units, without open plan downstairs, not more than four bedrooms, sleeping no more than twelve in two storey buildings.
Fire Safety Risk Assessment Sleeping Accommodation
This paper goes some way to helping with larger properties, however it was published in 2006 and is currently being updated by the Home Office. Earliest date expected in early 2024.
PASC UK (WAT Member) has very kindly produced the following short docs that summarize the current situation with Fire Regs in self-catering in England and Wales. They signpost you to all the regulations, the Government produces Guidance, the additional PASC UK papers and more.
They can be found here: https://www.pascuk.co.uk/fire_checks_and_safety/
The Home Office has also published both People with duties under fire safety laws - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) and Fire Safety Order: enforcement and sanctions for non-compliance - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) The People with duties under fire safety laws - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) is intended to assist ‘persons’ with duties under fire safety legislation in England to comply with the legislation.
The Fire Safety Order: enforcement and sanctions for non-compliance - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) explains how the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (as amended) is enforced and advises of the sanctions that are available to Enforcing Authorities if you fail to comply with this legislation.
To be held at the Metropole Hotel, Llandrindod Wells on Thursday 23rd November 2023. 9.45-3.30pm.
This year, MWT are diving deep into collaborative strategies, aiming to understand how businesses, communities, and organisations can unite as we venture into 2024 and beyond. With the global travel landscape buzzing with destinations, how does Wales, especially Mid Wales, plan to stand out?
There will be insights from industry experts, engage with over 100 tourism professionals and suppliers, and connect face-to-face and forge meaningful relationships with industry frontrunners and organisations committed to driving success.
Get all the details and secure your spot at www.midwalestourismconference.co.uk.